The transfer window has “slammed shut” under a fanfare of loud-mouthed Sky Sports TV presenters clad in garish, yellow attire and for once Manchester United seem to have come out on top…for the most part.
In summary, we’ve brought in Herrera, Shaw, Rojo, Di Maria, Blind and Falcao for a sum equivalent to only two years of our Adidas sponsorship deal. There have also been several outgoings in the form of retirements, free transfers and outright sales; most notably on deadline day, Danny ‘Dat Guy’ Welbeck. It’s been a bit of a rollercoaster ride for United fans in the last few months but ultimately we’ve seen the kind of spending United have been capable of for a while.
The club generates huge revenue but has seen average spending under the Glazers at a paltry (for a club this size) £30m per season and an average net spend before this summer of approximately £2.4m per season. No wonder we fell so far behind so quickly without the genius of Sir Alex Ferguson to keep it all together.
The Glazers seem to have now realised that this is not how you run a football club (although as a business they’re doing marvellously) and have sanctioned the purchase of around £150m worth of talent which includes not one but two proven, world class superstars. Who’d have thunk it?
The squad is now in good health with cover in most positions and a devastating array of attacking talent to choose from. It will be Luis van Golden Balls’ job to get this team playing attractive, vibrant, attacking football. It will be his job to get this expensively assembled collection of players playing the United way.
We certainly have the players to push for the coveted fourth place spot (at least) and with a few choice additions in central midfield and central defence next summer (possibly in January), this team can form the basis of another golden era at United.
For the record, I think it’s disrespectful from the press to say that Daley Blind and Ander Herrera aren’t good enough to fill the gaps in midfield and Rojo in defence. That judgment can only be made at the end of the season. Admittedly, there is still work to be done but the foundations are there for this squad to grow into one that can rival the world’s best.
Much has been said in the media about an apparent abandoning of our history and culture with the sale of Danny Welbeck, likely due to the fact he is relatively young and English (that most essential of attributes in a footballer). However, this conveniently ignores the inclusion of Tyler Blackett, Jesse Lingard & Reece James already this season with James Wilson likely to get more games this year as fourth choice striker. All younger than Welbeck and all English.
Adnan Januzaj isn’t English but is certainly young and has the potential to become one of the best players in the Premier League. That’s five players under or around 20 years old actively involved in the first team squad. None of the other top sides can say that.
In addition, the squad possesses an abundance of players who are still at an age where significant development can and should occur. David de Gea is already one of the world’s best and yet is only 23 years old. Phil Jones has shown flashes of his immense ability in his time at United and, indeed, this season has looked like making it his breakthrough year. He is playing in an unfamiliar system but has started the season well and can go on to be the player we all want and expect him to be. We’ve seen in the past that Chris Smalling, Jonny Evans and Rafael possess the attributes to be excellent players for us, if not in that world class category.
Last season represented a regression for the squad and, in particular, the players mentioned above (save for De Gea). They did not simply stagnate, they went backwards in their development. These are players that were lauded as ‘lions’ in Ferguson’s final season, especially following the Champions League tie against the might of Real Madrid and we have to believe that they can rediscover that form and spirit this season.
It is likely that for some of these players this season represents a last chance to make that breakthrough. I suspect that not all of them will but United and The Orange One have placed a great deal of trust in them and we all hope it will be repaid.
Importantly, United haven’t simply gone out and bought only world stars. Luke Shaw is very young and possesses the raw talent and potential to be amongst the best full backs in Europe for years to come. Ander Herrera, Marcos Rojo and Daley Blind are older but still have plenty of time to further improve. They are not the finished articles as yet and one hopes that the Dutch Master in charge can work his magic once again to get the best from these players as he has done so frequently in the past. They are all full internationals so have a degree of proven pedigree but with plenty of room for improvement.
There is an excellent mix of youth, potential, seasoned internationals and proven world class ability in the squad now and that can only be good for the future. Alan Hansen was actually almost right when he said “you can’t win anything with kids”. If you only have kids then you’ll be in trouble. You need to have players around the ‘kids’ guiding them, allowing them to fulfil their potential.
The Class of ’92 played alongside the likes of Peter Schmeichel, Eric Cantona, Gary Pallister, Steve Bruce, Brian McClair and Denis Irwin – all seasoned professionals at the peak of their powers. They had players like Roy Keane and Andy Cole proven at the highest level who were yet to hit their peak years. It was a team filled with quality as well as promise.
The point is not that we are abandoning our faith in youth but we are concentrating on elevating the first team to the standard expected of a Manchester United side.
With the acquisitions of Angel di Maria and Radamel Falcao, we can now boast a phenomenal group of attacking options the likes of which United haven’t seen since the Ronaldo-Tevez-Rooney Champions League winning trinity of 2008. Arguably, we have more world class attacking options now than we did back then, albeit without the solid foundations provided by Ferdinand, Vidic and Evra at their peak.
The loss of Welbeck is sad from a sentimental point of view but as someone who is 24 in November, he can no longer be considered as purely ‘having potential’. He has been given opportunities to cement a first team spot but has never quite taken any of them.
Ideally, I would have wanted him to stay and prove himself over the next few years but unfortunately, with last season’s disastrous handover to Moyes, the side cannot afford to carry players who aren’t quite at the required level (even if they might be in the long run). It’s a sad fact but it’s true. The immediate priority is regaining our Champions League place and then we can concentrate on the future. Danny was most probably informed that his game time was going to be limited. For the sake of his career, he needed to move on.
It is easier to bring in young players when you are in a position of strength, as was the case when the Dutch Philosophiser promoted players at Barcelona and Bayern Munich.
However, the sale of one of United’s youth products doesn’t mean we have abandoned our belief in youth. It just means that we have identified short term priorities in order to benefit the team in the long term. The Iron Tulip is well known for his belief in youth as long as they have the ability to contribute to his team. He famously had faith in likes of Seedorf, Davids, Kluivert, Xavi, Iniesta and Kroos (and many others) to produce the goods in the first team and he will invariably do the same at United.
To say we are abandoning our faith in youth is to miss the point entirely. Putting undue pressure on these young players to restore United’s status as one of Europe’s best would likely break them.
Are Welbeck and Cleverley at the level required in order to compete with the best in Europe? No. Are Angel Di Maria and Radamel Falcao? Without a shadow of a doubt.
Ultimately, the forward line is, on paper, one of the best in Europe. You couldn’t say that at the start of the window and United will now look to establish that position of strength in the coming season. We may have to alter our terrace song to “…we often score six and sometimes score ten”!